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Adolescents with ADHD Are More Likely to Abuse Drugs

First Posted: Jun 30, 2014 01:57 PM EDT

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects about 4.1% of adults and 9% of children between the ages of 13 to 18 years in the United States. The rates continue to increase, and researchers believe young patients are more likely to abuse drugs.

ADHD and ADD are typically treated with stimulant medications such as Adderall, Dexedrine, Vyvanse, Concerta, Metadate CD, Ritalin, and others. It's previously been suggested that these medications are abused and misused, but new research finds that merely possessing the disorder without being medicated poses a risk for adolescents to try and abuse illicit drugs.

The study, "Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Substance Abuse," was published on Monday in the journal Pediatrics. The joint study between Boston Children's Hospital and Miami Children's Hospital also found that 23% of school-aged children are also approached to sell, buy, or trade their ADHD medications.

"Obviously, the medications that are used to treat ADHD have the potential for abuse, but the vast majority of children with ADHD do not develop a substance abuse problem," said Dr. Michael Duchowny of the Miami Children's Hospital, in this CBS News article. "More research has to be done to find out why some children are more susceptible than others."

In the study, the researchers sought to determine whether children with ADHD are more likely than their peers to develop substance abuse disorders, including patients who were treated with stimulants as well as behavioral techniques (psychotherapy, education, or training). They analyzed 27 previous longitudinal studies from 2011 and found that those who suffer from ADHD are more than twice as likely to try and abuse drugs. However, those prescribed stimulant medications were actually associated with a lower risk of such behavior.

Being that it's common for many ADHD patients to have difficulty succeeding in school, the researchers believe they turn to drugs so they can escape anxiety about their difficulties in the classroom. Their social life can also be affected by the disorder, which would further their drug seeking behavior. However, the researchers only found an association and did not identify a cause-and-effect relationship.

Experts say the best way to alleviate the symptoms of ADHD and improve one's quality of life is through counseling, while also being aware of the medications available for a child's disorder since some affect others differently.

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